How the Pandemic Has Impacted the Education System

The future of education rests on the actions leaders take in the light of the current pandemic. Industry experts discuss accountability, assessments and the importance of proper leadership.


Air Date: September 24, 2020

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Dr. Anand Parekh, Chief Medical Advisor, Bipartisan Policy Center

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to discrepancies in many areas of the education system. Leaders in this industry are being called to act in ways that will strengthen the future of education in America.

Suzanne Clark, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke with experts about challenges the education system is facing during the pandemic. Here are four ways COVID has impacted education and how American education will look going forward.

Education Systems Are Facing Dilemmas Around Student and Teacher's Digital Access

Student and teacher access to technology has been a major challenge during the pandemic. This is true especially in rural areas, said Ashli Watts, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

"A lot of our inequities have been heightened, and really there's been a light shone on them," said Watts. "And this is one of them: internet access and broadband is now a necessity to learn, and we do have parts of the state where children do not have that."

The limited access to broadband internet is seen across the entire spectrum of the education system, notably in public charter schools.

"Sixty percent of our students are in [low-income] neighborhoods that don't have easy access to the internet," said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "And about half of them also [don't] have access to Chromebooks and the tools you need in order to do online learning."

In order to bridge the gaps in digital access, there have been attempts to provide free internet to areas that need it.

"We're grateful that in some states, the business community has stepped up to the plate to make sure they're making broadband available to as many families as possible," added Rees.

Experts Say Assessments Are Key to the Future of Education— Even During the Pandemic

Some argue assessments on student progress should be paused during the pandemic. However, without assessment data, education leaders will be unable to fix what's broken. For example, this information can assist in tackling the large gaps of racial and economic inequality in the education system, experts said.

"We have to make sure we take this task extremely seriously," said Rees. "And the only way to do that is by making sure we're measuring, because, as we all know, what gets measured gets done."

Additionally, the pandemic is creating even larger gaps within impoverished communities — an issue that needs to be addressed, added Watts.

"We have to see where we are to make sure that we can continue to improve," she emphasized.

Accountability Is Crucial When Following Up on Educational Assessments

Accountability is the only way leaders and the community can follow up on new education policies and change the future of education.

"Without accountability, you don't measure," said Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida. "And if you don't measure, you don't really care."

Bush added that leaders should reward accountability to get more of what they want: rising student achievement.

"You reward improvement and you reward excellence," he said. "And we do that by a hundred dollars per student, going to the schools directly with no cuts and no bureaucracy."

Leaders Are Called to Step up Within the Education System

Leaders must be willing to take actionable steps instead of talking in circles about policy, said Bob Duffy, president and CEO of The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce.

Elected officials need to "be bold, be decisive, take action … [and] put your constituents first," he added. "If you do that, we will make a lot more progress as opposed to … having these conversations for years where very little progress takes place."

Additionally, leaders need to communicate more effectively to secure a bright future for the educational system.

"Business leaders need to be talking to education leaders about what they need and vice versa," said Watts.